Reinvent B2B Sales With Buyer Personas


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Without question, while B2B Marketing is focused on developing its new prominence in the early stages of the buying cycle via content strategy and content marketing, B2B Sales is caught flat-footed on how to adapt to changing buyer behaviors. Professionals in B2B Sales must feel like they under assault from the constant dire predictions of outright dissolution in organizations as well as the constant pressure to squeeze more revenue out of the pipeline. This may be especially true in B2B organizations where inbound competencies haven’t been developed and measurements for productivity are based on outbound calls, appointments, and deals.

I do not subscribe to the notion that B2B Sales will face extinction much like when the Roman Empire fell and the city of Rome burned. What is true is that B2B Sales must go through a period of reinvention and cannot stand idly by as the world of B2B buyers continues to transform with each passing day. The good news is that B2B Sales can become a critical resource for buyers in a new found way if reinvention means becoming buyer enablers.

Here’s the interesting twist in the changes that are occurring – as buyers become more self-directed – the more B2B organizations will view “buying” in a professional light as opposed to something they do. My thought here is very different than the conventional purchasing department. Self-directed buying that involves research and evaluation as well as stakeholder analysis will become an increasingly important role in B2B organizations. Just like in other professions in embryo stages, a few will begin to lead the pack and bring some sense to the chaos of buying. B2B organizations will begin to assign and delegate buying to “professional buyers” skilled in using Internet and social technologies and who are skilled in the process of executing a self-directed buying cycle.

Buyer Persona Development can be a process and means for B2B Sales to reinvent itself. Understanding the archetypes of buyers and their relevant goals can provide the powerful insights B2B Sales needs to engage with buyers in this new social age. How can B2B Sales begin to reinvent themselves starting today? Here are a few guiding steps:

Commit to Research: this step is like perhaps going to a 12-step program related to an addiction. A B2B organization must first admit and come to the realization that they may know very little about the new social buyer and that the reason they need to reinvent their sales organization is because they are out of touch with their buyers. The first step is to recognize the need to know your buyers in a new and deep way.

Do the Right Research: the right research is based on qualitative research and contextual inquiry. Meaning you must go where your buyers are and gain insight into behavior that no amount of quantitative arm twisting will reveal. And oftentimes this means investing in third party help for a very important reason: not only will buyers be more forthcoming outside of the seller-buyer relationship but qualitative research and contextual inquiry (with knowledge of ethnographic and anthropology practices) takes skillful effort.

Don’t Fall in the Profiling Trap: a misunderstanding I wrote about in my recent article, Use Buyer Personas to Segment by Buying Behavior, is thinking that buyer personas are a profiling of specific titles and/or roles in your target organization. Thinking only in this way will put you no further ahead than you already are in terms of reinvention. Food for thought: if B2B organizations are assigning and delegating “professional” social buyers, how well do you know about them? Who are they? Are they the same as the titles and roles you’ve thought for the last twenty-five years? What do these new buying cycles look like?

Build Insight-Based Buyer Personas – Not Templates: in B2B Sales, insights about buyers are crucial to having a platform for engagement and conversational relevance. Templates of buyer personas are very limiting in keeping the focus where it should be – on key insights and narratives that matter to how buyers go about accomplishing goals.

Design for Sales Readiness: the design of buyer personas should focus on sales readiness in B2B Sales. Today’s B2B Sales Teams must be ready to anticipate and meet buyers where they are in the buying cycle. Buyer Persona Development grounded in the right research can give an insightful window into how today’s “assigned” social buyers are self-directing their buying cycles.

Design for Interaction: designing buyer personas should include a healthy focus on interaction that involves personal engagement – whether it is by a social technology medium, by phone, or in person. This can be done on two levels. One to design for conversation and two to design for customized content assembly.

Inform Sales Structure: buyer persona development can contribute immensely to informing how to organize sales team structurally and in ways that best map to how buyers are self-directing their engagement. The development effort informing on the right mix of inbound and outbound competencies that allow for an engaging as well as a redesigned buyer experience.

Inform Sales Roles and Hiring: the role of B2B Sales is transforming significantly and is at a critical juncture point. It must demonstrate role change to the buyer community in order to restore as well as regain relevancy. This means that B2B must junk their existing hiring criteria for sales they are wedded to. Buyer persona development can inform on the skills, knowledge, education, and attributes needed by sales teams to succeed.

These steps outlined above will contribute towards the reinvention of B2B Sales within B2B organizations. I also predict as B2B Sales adapts and evolves to changing buyer behaviors and reinvent anew, it will gain a prominent role in the eyes of the buyer. The changing buyer is already starting to experience “content overload” and overwhelming information sorting. B2B Sales, in a new role of expertise, can be the enabler and assembler of goal attaining opportunities that B2B buyers and social buyers alike will want as resources.

(I wish to thank Dave Brock for his recent article Buyer Persona’s — A Great Starting Point For Sales! as well as Andy Rudin for his recent article Want Sales? Eliminate Information Fog and Selling Friction!. Both articles, in addition to having engaging conversations with each on the future of B2B sales, served as an inspiration for this article.)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


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